Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Former Mass. Governor and 1988 presidential candidate Michael Dukakis talks 2020 and a lifetime in public service

Dukakis spoke about his work getting young people into politics
Mayor Raymond L. Flynn records, Collection 246.001, Boston City Archives

Former Massachusetts Governor and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis is 85 years old, but he doesn’t appear to be throwing in the towel anytime soon on his career in public service.

Dukakis can occasionally be seen picking up litter in Boston, teaching students political science at Northeastern University and riding across the state in a dinged-up 1949 Hudson to advocate for a better public transit system — a cause he has been fighting for since before his three-term tenure as governor.

The Brookline native and resident spoke with The Massachusetts Daily Collegian’s Jackson Cote about his work getting young people into politics, the blizzard of 1978 and cleaning up corruption in the Massachusetts state legislature in the 1960s, as well what is needed for Democrats to win the 2020 elections.

“I’ve just been seeing students all over who want to go into public service,” Dukakis said. “If there’s one thing that Trump has done it’s to turn kids on to public service — not intentionally, needless to say.”

On kick-starting his career in law and politics, and the influence of Jack Kennedy

“[I] practiced law at Hill & Barlow, who were nice enough to tolerate a young associate, who was basically operating, once I got elected in ’62, on a part-time basis. Very few of the established firms in Boston would do that, and that was one firm that did, and they were extremely supportive of me.

“My passion is public service, but in those days, there weren’t Kennedy schools, there weren’t Luskin schools [like] there is here at UCLA. If you had an interest in public service, you probably went to law school almost by default, and it did give you a way to support yourself and your family while you were out running around chasing public office. These days, obviously, you guys have such a wide range of options.

“But Harvard Law School in the late ’50s was full of a lot of people who were interested in politics. Jack Kennedy obviously was a key stimulus of that in many, many ways. And in fact, he came over and spoke to the law school Democrats when I was there, and it was one of the most impressive performance[s] I’ve ever seen on the part of a public official. No speech, he just said, ‘OK, here I am. You got me for an hour and a half. Ask me questions.’ … He was very impressive. I was, as you can imagine, a big Kennedy supporter.”

On running as a reform-minded candidate in the Brookline Democratic Town Committee and cleaning up corruption in the state legislature

“I walked into a legislature of a state government that must have been one of the most fearful, most corrupt in the country in ’62. It was bad. And so, a lot of what I and a bunch of younger legislators — Republicans as well as Democrats — spent a lot of time doing in the ’60s was trying to clean the place up: tough no-conflict laws… major governmental reform and reorganization, capita system for the first time… We weren’t able to get rid of it, but we dramatically reduced the powers and the shenanigans, frankly, of the governor’s council, five of whose eight members went to jail.

“At the same time, I wanted to see the party structure itself reformed. So, we… created something we call a COD, or a Commonwealth Organization of Democrats, and began encouraging new people — reform folks, reform-minded folks — to run for their local party committees… By 1960, when I graduated from law school, I was one of these young reform types that was running around the state, trying to not only [change] things in our home and community, but also [encourage] lots and lots of new people, younger people, to get involved in the Democratic organization. And we were quite successful.”

On whether a sense of urgency is needed when working in the interest of the public

“Well, there’s usually a sense of urgency. Although, we’ve gone through periods in the state where things are moving along pretty well. But now, we got this head case in the White House, and, yeah, there is a sense of urgency. I think the midterm results were very encouraging, but we’ve now got to go out and make this a 50-state campaign, 200,000 precincts — no fooling around. That’s got to be done.”

On his views of President Trump, the 2020 elections, socialism and health care in the U.S.

“First, we’ve got the worst president in my lifetime in the White House, so we got to get rid of him. We gotta get him out of there before he does even more damage. I mean, what’d he do yesterday? He called Spike Lee a racist. … mean, the biggest racist in the country is this guy. He’s shown it over and over again. But beyond getting rid of Trump, I think there’s an opportunity to pick up another 20, 25 seats in Congress … take control of the Senate and then really go to work and make this a transformational election.

“As always, we got to make sure that we’re together on this and we don’t get hung up on who’s a socialist and who isn’t, which is really so silly. I mean, none of these people are socialists, including the gal from the Bronx. A socialist is somebody who believes in government taking over the means of production… Do you know who the first president was… who strongly proposed universal Medicare? Well, it was Harry Truman… He certainly wasn’t a socialist. He just thought that working Americans and their families ought to have decent, affordable health care and the best way to deliver it was through the Social Security system… This isn’t socialism. It’s what every single advanced, industrialized nation in the world has been doing for years — except for us.”

On the blizzard of ‘78 and preparing for the storm

“You gotta make sure your state is surviving. It was 32 inches of snow, and we’d had a 10 or 11-inch snow storm about a week earlier. So, I had a state that was paralyzed. Fortunately, I had a terrific secretary of public safety named Charlie Barry, who had been [the] No. 3 guy in the Boston police force before I convinced him to come to work for me… and fortunately for me and for the rest of the state, he was obsessed with the importance of emergency planning… and he had done an enormous amount of work on the subject long before the snow started falling. He really was the hero of that.

“I will take credit for one thing… When I became governor, the National Guard, which is the governor’s responsibility… were just kind of dangling around and didn’t report to anybody. And I basically said to them, ‘You’re reporting to Barry.’ So, he had the National Guard along with other various agencies, emergency management and state police… He had worked very hard to make sure that they worked as a team, so when the snow started falling and the problems began, they were ready. I can tell you, without that, we would’ve had a lot of tragedies.

“[It’s] just a reminder that if you’re going to run for election and you’re going to try get yourself elected to these kinds of jobs, you better put at the top of the list the competence and ability of the people that you pick to work with you.”

On the Northeast Corridor, the importance of public transportation and the need for a rail link connecting North and South stations in Boston

“I don’t have to tell you what’s going on with traffic in the Boston area. Even though we have what ought to be the best public transportation system in the country, now it isn’t these days for a variety of reasons — and it should be. We’re now on our fifth CEO [of the MBTA] in… four and half years under [Gov. Charlie] Baker. How can you produce and run one of the best public transportation systems in the country when you have five CEOS in four years? It’s just crazy.

“In ’74… we were operating trolley cars that had been around for decades. My stop was Longwood on the Green Line, and we’d break down two days out of five. It just was intolerable. Well, I had [Robert] Kiley on the job within 60 days after I was inaugurated. Who’s Kiley? He was the deputy mayor of Boston and… a terrific public manager. He ended up being a transit guy. He ran the New York system, and he was so good that…the mayor of London asked him to come to London to run that system for four years to straighten it out. You don’t normally hear about Americans being brought to Europe to run transit systems, right?

“By the time I left office… the T was operating as well or better than it ever had, and more and more people, needless to say, were being attracted to public transportation. But you’ve got to maintain those systems. You’ve got to expand them. This silly, one-mile gap between North and South Station is just preposterous… That thing would take somewhere between [60,000] and 80,000 cars out of the road every day.

“So, I and Bill Weld and others have been pushing hard. We’re not getting any response to speak of from the Baker administration, and I don’t understand it. Charlie Baker is an intelligent guy. He knows the city’s choking to death. I think the average speed on the Southeast Expressway by next year or the year after it at 5 o’clock in the afternoon will be five miles an hour, literally… Well, the governor doesn’t seem to want to move on this, for reasons I don’t understand. I think it’s a no-brainer.”

On the values needed for entering into a career in public service

“[The] first thing you gotta be is a good listener. I was a lousy listener when I first went into politics. I was really the talker, which is one of the reasons I got my head handed to me when I ran for re-election for the first time as governor, and I was a much better listener the second time around I can tell you.

“Secondly, you gotta be a consensus builder… Now, how you do that in a time when everybody says nobody wants to compromise. You use your position to bring people together. It took me about 20 years to figure this out, but once I did, I never went down the policy road without creating a working group first. Made up of whom? Of important, key people in that particular policy area, some of whom couldn’t stand each other when they first start in the process…Then you go to work and come up with solutions that have broad public support.

“I never remember asking somebody to be part of this process who said, ‘Screw you, governor. I don’t choose to participate.’ People in this country and in Massachusetts don’t do that. And if you ask them, they’ll participate. Low and behold, we started coming up with solutions to all of these problems… So, being a consensus builder is important. [It] doesn’t mean that you check your ideology at the door or you don’t have good, gutsy proposals — I’m not saying that.”

Jackson Cote can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @jackson_k_cote.

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    Dr. EdApr 10, 2019 at 1:06 pm

    There’s more to the Blizzard of ’78 — New Hampshire had it’s plow trucks waiting at the state line and asked him permission to cross into Massachusetts and start plowing I-95 & I-495 because NH was crippled with those roads closed.
    Dukakas *refused* and left the roads closed for a week until he could get Federal Troops and their equipment in.
    This was political — the NH Governor was a Republican, while the POTUS was a Democrat (Jimmy Carter) — bare, naked politics and it’s why he lost in 1978.
    That and his increasing the state sales tax from 3% to 5% after having run on a “no new taxes” platform.